March 2006 Newsletter
The following articles are reproduced from the March 2006 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.
Message From the International President
“To be alive is to be sensitively alert and conscious — of what exists outside, as well as within the mind. The ‘dead’ are not conscious, while those who are growingly alert and watchful are aware of the subtle and the hidden aspects of the changing life around them and of the illusory self within. Being alive in this sense is a transformation. A mind that is alive is constantly cleansing and clarifying itself. Theosophy being the understanding of life, those who are open to its truths undergo constant inner changes.”
Are We Alive to the Truths
Presidential Address to the 130th Annual Convention of the Theosophical Society Adyar
The future of the Theosophical Society is a matter of very real concern to all of us who are committed to its ideals and work, and who realize that the Society exists in order to awaken human beings to their own higher and real nature, and thus usher in a ‘new age’ of Universal Brotherhood and deep awareness of true values. Although the words ‘new age’ are being bandied about a great deal all over the world, there is little general awareness of the need for a profound change in human consciousness, which alone can ameliorate world conditions and illumine the individual mind with the light of love and wisdom.
We are conscious that a way must be found out of the pervasive state of violence, hatred and spiritual ignorance (avidya) which darkens the world, but how can we set our feet firmly on the path leading to peace, love and true knowledge? I suggest that in this context we must begin by asking not only whether we are alive to the truths of Theosophy, but whether we are alive at all and, if we are, how alive are we? Let us examine the meaning of the related words ‘survive’, ‘live’ and ‘be alive’. Often the meaning seems to be blurred and the words interchangeable. Clarity on this matter is crucial to understanding whether we are alive to the truths of Theosophy.
Nature herself has incorporated into every living creature, great and small, an irresistible instinct to survive. This instinct makes the ant and the mite turn away from an impediment or bite when necessary; it enables creatures to camouflage themselves, burrow into the earth for shelter and learn the craft of escaping danger as well as the art of looking after their young. In human beings also the survival instinct exists and serves a purpose. It is natural for us to avoid a snake or a brigand with a gun or step aside when a coconut comes hurtling down from the top of a tree. This instinct is natural and right, because every living thing must survive for a reasonable period of time to facilitate evolutionary changes and for the species itself to fulfil its mission and role within the framework of the vast design of Nature. It is also by the purposeful plan of evolution that the outstandingly clever brain of the human being has developed from the stage of lowly bacteria, or perhaps from scratch.
Now, this same clever human brain is converting—or shall we say distorting—the necessary but unconscious desire ‘to keep body and soul together’ into an aggressive and destructive urge that does not stop short of suicidal activities such as warfare and devastation of our habitat, this earth. Once when J. Krishnamurti had a discussion in Mumbai with a group of bright young men from the Institute of Technology and presented to them his views, one of the students said: ‘If we follow what you say, we will not be able to survive.’ Krishnamurti simply replied: ‘Don’t survive!’, because the survival idea has been blown up to justify unscrupulous competition, ruthless ambition and achieving a high style of living—staying or eating in five-star hotels and paying Rs. 150 for two idlis (steamed rice cakes) which can be got outside for Rs. 15 or much less. There are, sadly, millions of people in this world who are not able even to survive in the ordinary sense of the term, nor equipped to ward off hunger, malnutrition, homelessness and other forms of suffering. The so-called desire to survive of the relatively rich upper class promotes utter callousness and selfishness, and prevents our being part of a sharing world.
The word ‘living’, as contrasted with ‘surviving’, suggests a certain enhancement of existence in the physical body to a higher level through what we call culture. Extreme poverty, a seriously handicapped body and damage to the brain are among causes that make people survive but not live, as we are aware. Living at the human stage is not a matter of eating, drinking and making merry, because the human consciousness holds within itself the potential for unlimited expansion into subtler levels of experience and understanding. But the primitive human becomes civilized through devotion to art and music, the pursuit of science and investigation of stars, atoms and a myriad other aspects of the universe, and through philosophy as well as philanthropy. These activities cannot be considered luxuries, being ways to elevate the quality of our mental and other faculties. From this point of view, living is altogether different from surviving or spending time in accumulating material possessions and finding gratification for the senses.
Then what do we mean by ‘being alive’, and particularly being alive to truth and beauty, to significance and sacredness? To my mind, being alive to anything involves sensitive perception, freedom from preconceptions and reactions to what is seen or heard, and therefore an approach that is serene and harmonious. In this way, a person may be alive to all of life, for example, to the all-pervasive suffering in the world, not only of human beings, but of every other form of life. The normal contacts and relationships that we have with other people, with ideas, with Nature and our surroundings, with even a respected teacher, are generally superficial and shallow. Shallow thoughts and many chaotic feelings obstruct awareness of the significance and implications of what we encounter. For example, we may hear the Lord Buddha’s statement about the First Noble Truth—the truth of suffering. Perhaps we agree, or perhaps we dismiss his advice from our mind. But if we are alive to that truth and listen to it with real attention, we cannot drop it and carry on our daily chores in a state of forgetfulness. We will examine the truth from every angle, brood thoughtfully over what the Lord Buddha meant, meditate on why and how our actions, thoughts and emotions give rise to suffering in one form or another, and realize that suffering takes innumerable forms—such as loneliness, frustration, lack of friendliness and so on. We will try to find out what makes us act harshly or cruelly, so as to hurt animals, plants or people. Thus that single statement of the Buddha will become the starting point of significant and soul-stirring contemplation.
Being alive to a plant or a flower—and to many other things — would similarly transport our consciousness into ever deeper perception of hidden truths. We would steadily develop a sense of harmony, because we are sounding the deeper levels of being. A person may see a flower casually or with a certain affection, and say it is lovely. But if he or she were alive to the truth of the flower, or whatever else, it would be impossible not to feel at one with it, in complete harmony with its very being, and that would be the beginning of love. This year a quotation has been included in the Convention programme booklet which draws an analogy between the rising of the sun and learning to love. As the sun’s rays light up the world, in all the things of the earth beauty is revealed. When the heart is right, as Thomas à Kempis said, every creature becomes a book of holy scripture, revealing a sacred element which was not apparent earlier. Truth is omnipresent and perennial, but is not visible to our eyes before we open ourselves inwardly and become alive to all of life.
The truths of Theosophy are not theoretical or intellectual propositions; they concern life. Whether we find those truths prosaic and commonplace, intellectually stimulating, morally uplifting, or spiritually enlightening depends entirely on us. A new quality and dimension in our life and relationships might gladden our existence if we learn to be alive to subjects usually listed as part of Theosophical teaching, for example, reincarnation. Realizing the reasonableness of the concept of recurring births as a means for the soul’s progress is undoubtedly very useful. It saves people from the dreadful fear of being punished or annihilated. But on more sustained reflection, and perhaps even meditation, a person begins to see how the process continuously widens the faculties of the reincarnating individual, and brings a sense of universality to the consciousness. It is like the opening of a blossom. From being cooped up in the personality and relating everything to oneself, the consciousness becomes freer and freer to embrace all of life as a part of itself—the One Self. The process of reincarnation exists, but is only a mechanism to awaken the soul, which as the well-known Theosophical truth declares, has a future whose growth and splendour have no limit.
Every Theosophical truth—and I would like to emphasize again that the truths of Theosophy are truths about the nature of life—has a formal side as well as a hidden purpose and significance. Being alive to them has enormous implications. As we grow into greater awareness of the hidden implications and the unplumbed depths of these truths, which are not contradictory or diverse, but part of a total spiritual movement, our way of thinking, behaviour, relationships and aspirations change entirely.
Are we alive to being part of a nucleus of Universal Brotherhood, realizing that a worldwide family of brothers and sisters and close companions, working for a lofty ideal, can be a powerful force in the world? Present on this platform are members from distant as well as nearby places who are all our brothers and sisters, an intimate part of one family. They may look different, have unfamiliar customs and find it difficult to understand Indian English, and we Indians may find some of their speech unintelligible, but we are all brothers and sisters working for the same cause, ready to dedicate our energy to building a peaceful and good world. Together we can create a new future for humanity, blessed by greater wisdom and compassionate feelings.
Our Universal Brotherhood, when extended to all beings, can make the earth itself more prosperous. Our constructive thoughts and activities can make true progress possible for numerous fellow humans and millions of lesser creatures who are deprived. We would then find ways and means for ferocious animals to live unafraid and therefore become gentler; domestic animals may be helped to rise to new levels of affectionate behaviour, loyalty and cooperation with their elder brethren, the human beings. We know that, in spite of poverty, a majority of Indians lived at one time without envy, contented with simple things, with smiles on their faces, because there was a way of thinking in the country which made it possible for them to do so. Madame Blavatsky, on being asked whether there would be an end to poverty at the end of the Kali Yuga, said that it may not be so because people have to work out their karma, but the poor would be happy and free of frustration, and the rich would be generous and kind. Such an end to Kali Yuga can begin even now if we create a strong nucleus of Universal Brotherhood without any distinctions. Are we alive to the truth of such a regenerative Brotherhood that the Mahatmas envisaged?
As part of our continuing effort to achieve our twin-object of popularizing a knowledge of theosophy and induction of new members, we will be starting the 22nd edition of A Course in Theosophy on Monday, 20 March 2006.
Theosophy encompasses the science of life and the philosophy of living and has helped many people in the world. All members can help in the mission of popularizing a knowledge of theosophy. You will be doing humanity a great service by reaching out and bringing newcomers to the Society, to expose them to the theosophical teachings. Start by getting your relatives and friends to enroll for the course.
For enrolment and details of the course, you may go to our webpage at www.singaporelodge.org/btc_dates.htm.